Police abuse, discrimination, daily evacuations, lack of access to water and hygiene: the situation for migrants in the northern French city of Calais continues to deteriorate with the COVID-19 crisis and public health restrictions failing to stem arrivals or dampen dreams of making it to England.
With the easing of coronavirus lockdowns and reopening of European borders, migrants are on the move again. Several non-government organizations at the site say the number of migrants in Calais is now around 1,200, twice as many as at this time last year.
coordinator of the NGO Utopia 56 Calais, the summer of 2020 promises
to be busy and above all, tense. At this time of year, the
organization usually teams up with partner associations to collect
donations of items and materials that can be used by migrants on the
streets. "Since these events were cancelled with the coronavirus
crisis, we're going to run out of everything, especially tents,"
dismantling of the huge “Calais Jungle” in 2016, where up to
9,000 people lived, migrants are now scattered in several camps, most
on the outskirts of Calais. The largest – renamed "the Big
Jungle" – is located in the Dune Industrial Zone near the port
and is home to several hundred people, mainly of Sudanese, Eritrean,
Afghan and Iranian origin. Around 200 Afghans and Iranians have also
camped near the hospital and a group of Eritreans have settled near
Youth Service, another NGO, estimates that there are around 100 unaccompanied
minors among the 1,200 migrants. Contacted by InfoMigrants, the
prefecture estimated that there were between 700 and
750 migrants of all age groups, mostly concentrated in the Dune
Industrial Zone camp, adding that "the other settlements have
Lack of water and showers, piles of garbage and rats
With the arrival of the summer high temperatures and the ongoing COVID-19 threat, migrant rights groups are particularly concerned about health issues. "There’s only one running water point located in the Dune Zone, while in some camps, they are several kilometers away," said Juliette Delaplace from the NGO, Secours Catholique. "Garbage is accumulating and is not collected often enough, we have noticed the presence of rats. The state finances a maximum of 250 showers a day, which is far from enough for 1,200 people in need," she explained.
The prefecture, on
the other hand, maintains that it has "reinforced" access
to water since the start of the coronavirus crisis with "the
installation of free access latrines and water points on four sites,
a new water fountain and three mobile cisterns." In total, the
prefecture says there are 43 toilets and 51 taps, and while water
supply to some of these taps was cut during the lockdown to prevent
crowding and maintain compliance with social distancing measures, the
decrease was "fully compensated by a greater distribution of
In addition, two
buses are available on rue des Huttes, five days a week, to transport
migrants "in groups of 14 maximum" to the showers on rue
Saint-Omer, more than an hour's walk from the Dune Camp. The showers
are “completely and regularly cleaned to prevent the risk of
infection. To avoid possible disturbances of public order in waiting
lines, police surveillance is also provided," says the
prefecture. There were 3,372 visits to the showers in May, an average
of 169 showers per day, according to prefecture figures.
police harassment and public service discrimination
"Everything is organized to fight against forming attachments, to discourage migrants from settling, starting with these showers on the edge of the city," Delaplace explained. "But more generally, it’s the right to accommodation that is not applied at all in Calais. People are expelled every morning, they feel they are being badly treated and harassed by the police," she said. This includes police seizing tents, blankets and even personal papers during evacuations, said Delaplace. "Right now, volunteers at Secours Catholique have started sewing small cloth pockets so that they [migrants] can keep their documents with them 24 hours a day. It's not right that it should come to this!"
Outside the camps,
the situation is just as tense, according to migrant rights
associations that denounce harassment and discrimination on public
transportation, with several video clips emerging to support these
In recent weeks, many migrants reported that city buses were not stopping at bus stops near the camps and passed when black people or people of color were waiting for a bus. "Since then, the director of Calais Opal Bus, whom we met, assured us that the exiles would be allowed on buses. This is now the case, except that once inside, they are almost always taken out to be checked. It's unbearable," said an outraged Delaplace.
[Grande-Synthe] Urgence sanitaire et alimentaire à Grande-Synthe : des familles survivent dans des conditions déplorables dans un hangar et dans les bois. L'accès à l'eau, à la nourriture et aux soins pour ces personnes est compromis. pic.twitter.com/GpCfVchjAQ— Utopia 56 (@Utopia_56) May 3, 2020
The pressure is even
greater for migrants whose asylum requests have been rejected and
other undocumented migrants because an administrative detention
center has reopened after a closure during the lockdown. "It's
already full," said Siloé from Utopia 56 Calais, describing an
explosive situation. "Last week, 34 people were sent to the
administrative detention center in three days. This adds further
pressure as the exiles are already being evacuated from their camps
every day and the authorities are confiscating their belongings. The
police are also adding more fences, especially around the 'Big
Jungle', which results in restricted space and sometimes sparks turf
wars between different exile communities."
violations – with impunity’
The prefecture, for
its part, confirms that the pace of evacuations is intense: "Since
Friday, April 3, the state has undertaken 24 successive operations to
shelter the migrant population of Calais." The stated goal: "To
take care, for humanitarian reasons, of a homeless population, whose
presence in certain outlying areas of Calais also causes serious
public health problems and breaches of public peace. It is also to
stop the spread of COVID-19, to ensure the protection of all."
According to the
prefecture, 617 migrants have been "sheltered" since the
beginning of these operations in six centers in the department.
In addition, the
prefecture says it is continuing its almost daily evacuations carried
out under the authority of the public prosecutor of Boulogne-sur-Mer,
a city 35 kilometers south of Calais. "The aim of these
operations is to put an end to illegal occupations and to avoid the
reconstitution of lawless areas and unhealthy camps that would soon
become shantytowns. During these operations, all migrants who so wish
can be sheltered in reception and situation assessment centers."
Since these centers opened in August 2017, around 4,797 migrants from Calais have been taken care of after their evacuations.
These figures do not satisfy migrant rights groups, who note that the overwhelming
majority of migrants in Calais have England in their sights, and the
daily dismantling and police pressure does not stem the flow of
arrivals. "In Calais, we are clearly in the midst of ongoing
human rights violations that have become normalized – and the local
and national authorities continue to maintain the rotting situation
with impunity," explained Delaplace.